JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Families of more than a dozen local veterans gathered Friday to see their loved ones finally receive the honor in death that their service in life warranted.
For years, their cremated remains lay unclaimed in Jacksonville funeral homes until the Missing in America Project stepped in, making sure they received full military honors, and in some cases, connecting families.
With the playing of taps and a 21-gun salute, the remains of 15 veterans were interred at the Jacksonville National Cemetery.
James Lucas' father was one of the veterans honored. He and his brother were 21 and 13 respectively when their father, a World War II Army veteran, passed.
They thought family members who handled the funeral had his remains.
"I didn't realize his ashes had been left. We were young when he passed, and we're just so glad that they have this program to do this," said Lucas.
Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home worked with the Missing in America Project to find all the veterans honored here.
"They originally provide us with a list of 565 unclaimed cremains. Now not all of them are veterans, but that's what our job is... to look through the paperwork and locate the veterans," said Kathy Church of Missing in America Florida.
The remains that were interred Friday had been in Jacksonville funeral homes for decades -- some since 1970 -- and included six World War I veterans, six World War II veterans, one Korean War veteran, two Vietnam War veterans, four spouses of World War I veterans and one infant son of a Vietnam veteran.
Of veterans being interred, 13 served in the Army, one from the Air Force, from from the Navy and one was a Marine. This ceremony will be held at the Jacksonville National Cemetery.
The Missing in America Project says its mission is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. The group aims to provide honor, respect and dignity to those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for these forgotten heroes.
A rider escort led my the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office brought the remains from the Hardage-Giddens Town and Country Funeral Home/Riverside Memorial Park to the National Cemetery on Jacksonville's Northside, to a final and fitting resting place for our country's forgotten heroes.
And for their families, a chance for closure, respect and honor.
"It means a lot," Lucas said. "It's been a special day that I'll never forget -- to see all these people turn out to recognize his service and his sacrifice.
This was the second "Call to Honor" ceremony Missing in America has held in Jacksonville. The first ceremony was held in November 2013.
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